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This Q&A explains how quality is measured for early childhood education, what the Quality Rating & Improvement System (QRIS) is, and how program or school accreditation relates to quality.

What is a QRIS (Quality Rating and Improvement System)?

A QRIS is a rating and assessment system designed to evaluate early childhood programs, provide incentives to improve them, and show their level of quality. The purpose of QRIS is to improve the quality of early childhood programs beyond the minimum standards for state child care licensing so that programs can optimally support child development and learning.

Many states have a Quality Rating and Improvement System (QRIS), but each QRIS is different and unique. Learn more about QRIS across states from the BUILD Initiative.

What is the QRIS in Illinois?

ExceleRate Illinois is the Quality Rating and Improvement System (QRIS) for our state. ExceleRate Illinois is a statewide system designed to make continuous quality improvement an everyday priority among early learning providers. The program establishes standards for helping infants, toddlers, and preschool-age children develop intellectually, physically, socially, and emotionally. It provides a framework for early learning professionals to identify opportunities for improvement, increase their skills, and take steps to make positive changes.

ExceleRate Illinois recognizes early childhood programs by awarding the following Circles of Quality (listed from lowest to highest level): licensed, bronze, silver, and gold. Each higher level of quality indicates the increased improvements that providers have made to their early childhood programs.

Parents can use the Illinois Cares for Kids search tool to find a quality early childhood program for their child in their area of the state. ExceleRate Illinois is a voluntary program, so not every early childhood program in Illinois chooses to participate in it.

What is program or school accreditation and how does accreditation relate to quality?

Accreditation is a voluntary process that early childhood programs go through to show their ongoing commitment to early childhood quality and program improvement. National accreditation can be an important marker of quality in early childhood programs. However, accreditation can have some challenges. Accreditation can be expensive for programs and take a lot of time and effort, maybe even several years from the time of inquiry to the award of accreditation. Not every program has the funding or staff to pursue national accreditation.

One of the most well-known accreditations for early childhood centers is through the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC). NAEYC accreditation is a four-step process that includes self-reflection and quality improvement for early childhood programs and staff. Programs must show how they meet NAEYC standards in 10 different areas, including relationships, curriculum, teaching, and health. The accreditation process culminates with a site visit, where a trained NAEYC assessor visits programs to assess program quality. NAEYC accreditation lasts five years, and then programs must complete reaccreditation.

Additional national accreditations include National Accreditation Commission for Early Care and Education Programs (NAC), National Early Childhood Program Accreditation (NECPA), and Cognia accreditation. Family childcare programs may pursue National Association for Family Child Care (NAFCC) accreditation. Early childhood programs with specialized curricula, such as Montessori, may seek out program accreditation through more specialized membership organizations like American Montessori Society (AMS) .

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About this resource

Setting(s) for which the article is intended:
  • Child Care Center
  • Preschool Program

Intended audience(s):
  • Parents / Family
  • Teachers / Service providers

Age Levels (the age of the children to whom the article applies):
Reviewed: 2022